At least she has a suggestion: Learn video.
Now the vice president and editor-in-chief of CBS Interactive’s Entertainment and Lifestyle division, Goldman was a writer and editor in the past, including for the Industry Standard, New York, Rolling Stone, and Wired. She has also been a screenwriter and producer.
Goldman founded Chow as a print magazine in 2004. CNET acquired it in 2006, along with Chowhound.com, and turned it into an online site. CBS Interactive Media acquired both in 2008. There are 3,000 to 5,000 recipes on the site.
I spoke with her about the opportunities for food writers at Chow.com and beyond:
Q. What are your responsibilities at Chow?
A. I’m the combination publisher and editor, responsible for the budget. Ad sales people do not report to me but I am obviously implicated in the bottom line. I run the operation, engineers, product people, designers, writers, editors, and recipe developers.
Q. What is Chow doing that’s different from other food websites?
A. Our attitude, the demographic and the reason we exist stay the same: to provide an informal, intelligent, irreverent voice in the world of food. It’s about beautiful food but it’s about having fun.
We’re moving very heavy into video series. We have one I love called “You’re doing it all wrong.” It’s easy to watch, intelligent, tightly edited, and doesn’t waste your time.
Chowhound is also an incredible resource for cooking and restaurants. The home cooking board is one of the most popular boards on the site. Ask a question and sometimes you get an answer in seconds from some really experienced cooks.
Q. On your site it says most recipes are developed in house or by members. You don’t hire people to write recipes?
A. Rarely. We asked Leah Koenig to do some Passover recipes. Sometimes if they’re specialized, we hire someone. But we have three people in test kitchen to do the recipes.
Q. You’re heavily into video and you don’t pay for recipes. What I’m getting from you is that food writers need to evolve, if this is the future.
A. Yes. People think they can have a meal and write about it, but that is not valuable to anybody except your immediate family. The principles of journalism need to apply. You need to add something: your own point of view, your personality, some research.
Q. So food writers need to become videographers?
A. I think that would help. Right now it’s a more vibrant medium. It’s still hard to read online. The web is turning into a directory and people are using it as an in-house library or as entertainment.
Video is about paying attention and not letting stuff slip. You’re looking to tell a story in the most engaging way: Move stuff around, cut stuff out, add graphics and titles and information and make it dense and interesting.
The tools for video are amazing. It’s easy, with simple software like iMovie, to make a good video.
Q. Hmm. How can you make this sound less scary for a word-based person like me?
A. Well I can’t. There’s always going to be a market for stories. The sources of written information are going to become far far fewer. Also words can be reproduced.
Q. Do you still hire freelancers for general stories?
A. We started cutting down our freelance contributions about three years ago. Our staff writes and we have a chef who writes because he has a very particular point of view.
Q. So people should not be pitching you for stories?
A. That’s correct, unless you have a video idea.
Q. That’s really depressing.
A. I know. I love the stories. But the appetite for written stories is just not as great as for video. I’m not saying food writing cannot be a profession. I’m just saying that’s how it works at Chow.
Q. How does a freelance food writer make a living then?
A. Probably find another occupation.
Q. Like become a videographer?
A. Yeah, I think that’s really right, or by writing treatments for video.
Q. Can you say more about that?
A. At Chow we’re looking for video series, concepts that are web series. Those need to be written and produced. The job of a producer is very similar to being an editor, and the job of a writer is similar. The producer is making the phone calls, finding people for the job. Someone once told me it’s like throwing a party: Get all the right people together and hope for the best, come back when it’s getting out of control.
Script writers write dialog. Otherwise it’s more like screen writing in that you come up with scenes and what’s going to happen, not necessarily how it’s said. What’s said is secondary to what’s going to happen.
What works online is repetition and a series. There’s very little context on the web, where people don’t necessarily know where they are. A one-off video on YouTube doesn’t have a context, but a series does. Readers see the sequence, they can tell what’s happening.
Q. Can we talk about food bloggers for a minute? Do you read any food blogs?
A. Yeah I do. Not regularly, but in binges. I go to a blog and I read a lot of it at a time. I read 101 Cookbooks, and I read the blogs of a few people because I’ve met them and know them personally.
Q. Should food bloggers continue to give away recipes?
A. They don’t have any choice, do they?
Q. How can food bloggers make money? So many want to know.
A. It’s a longshot, to make a living. It’s like making music and putting out a record. You throw it out there and hope something happens. Obviously there are people who are very good at developing an audience, creating a brand, marketing a brand, and getting press.
Q. Do you have final career advice for food writers?
A. Don’t be generic. When I first started writing I thought I had to sound like everybody else, like a magazine article. What I found was the more I let my own personality come through the more successful I was.
That doesn’t mean indulgence. It doesn’t mean just letting it flow onto the screen. It means to be your highly polished best of self.
Be diligent, persistent and write regularly. Don’t limit yourself to the written word. Don’t do the thing that anybody could have done. Add that bit of effort to turn something into something special.
Writers are supposed to do what people don’t have the guts or the energy to do. Find out why or how, not just what.
I get so pissed off when people are lazy.
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